What is today’s Federal Air Marshal Service? Simply put, it is a highly trained, professional federal law enforcement agency charged with securing America’s civil aviation system from both criminal and terrorist acts.
The story of today’s Federal Air Marshal Service began long before the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
In the late 1960s, a rash of hijackings of U.S. flagged commercial air carriers necessitated the creation of a program aimed at halting the increasing threat to passenger safety. In an agreement signed in October 1970 between the Departments of the Treasury and Transportation, the U.S. Customs Service was given the responsibility to establish an enforcement program aimed at eliminating this threat.
The result was the creation of the Customs Air Security Officers Program, more familiarly known as the “Sky Marshal Program.” Starting in late 1970, 1,784 men and women completed intense, rigorous training at the U.S. Army’s Fort Belvoir in Virginia.
Placed on American aircraft dressed as typical passengers, the Customs Air Security Officers were flying armed and ready to thwart an attempted hijacking at a moments notice. This very successful program ceased operations in June 1974 when x-ray screening equipment was introduced in the nation’s airports.
In response to the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985, President Ronald Reagan directed the Secretary of Transportation, in cooperation with the Secretary of State, to explore expansion of the armed Sky Marshal program aboard international flights for U.S. air carriers. Congress responded by passing the International Security and Development Cooperation Act (Public Law 99-83), which provided the statutes that supported the Federal Air Marshal Service.
On September 11, 2001, the Air Marshal Program consisted of less than fifty armed marshals who, by statute, flew only on international flights flown by U.S. air carriers. The tragic events which unfolded that day demonstrated the need for an expanded law enforcement presence on board American carriers on both foreign and domestic flights.
As a result of the attacks, President George W. Bush ordered the rapid expansion of the Federal Air Marshal Service. Over 200,000 applications were initially received, from which several thousand qualified Federal Air Marshals were selected. Those who were hired came from a diverse background of experience including other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and the military.
Today, Federal Air Marshals serve as the primary law enforcement entity within the Transportation Security Administration and are deployed on flights around the world and in the United States. While their primary mission of protecting air passengers and crew has not changed much over the years, Federal Air Marshals have an ever expanding role in homeland security and work closely with other law enforcement agencies to accomplish their mission. Currently, air marshals staff several positions at different organizations such as the National Counterterrorism Center, the National Targeting Center, and on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces. In addition, they are also distributed among other law enforcement and homeland security liaison assignments during times of heightened alert or special national events.
The men and women who make up the Federal Air Marshal Service are dedicated, well trained law enforcement professionals, each equipped with the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary keep our aviation system safe and secure.
- Want to know more about our work? Our Mission
- Who are the people of the Federal Air Marshal Service? Our People
- Interested in learning more about our training and the qualifications our Federal Air Marshals have? Our Training
- Think you have what it takes to be a part of the Federal Air Marshal Service? I am FAMS